I caught and killed a few feisty crabs for breakfast. A young sea dog hobbled over to me; I stopped to pat her head as she smelled my clothes.
“I must smell like you now after I went for something of a swim the other day.”
She rolled over, barking playfully. I knelt and pet her smooth belly.
“Sorry, but I can’t play today.”
I carried the crabs over to Dash. My heart raced at the sight of him and I wondered why I felt such strange things. Hearing my approach, he sat up with a smile.
“Good morning,” he said. “You have been productive!”
“I’d be happy to catch breakfast for you every morning.”
“I feel rejuvenated after that.”
He started up the fire while I prepared the crabmeat. We sat close to one another as our morning meal roasted.
“What did the sky look like this morning?” he asked.
“It was a bright orange in the beginning, and then it transformed into a soft pink. Like one of my mother’s hair ribbons. She rarely wore it, but I remember it vividly when she did.”
“You miss her.”
“I always will, but … Dash, I am happy here. Is that strange?”
I swallowed hard, realizing how foolish I must have sounded.
“It isn’t strange at all,” he said softly.
I smiled, looking away from him for a moment.
“You’re smiling, aren’t you?” he asked with a grin.
“Ha! Let’s eat.”
I gave him a skewer and then took one for myself.
“Délicieux,” he said, tasting a morsel of the crab.
“Délicieux,” I mimicked, trying to imitate his accent.
He laughed so hard that he fell back into the sand. I laughed with him, savouring the sound as it filled the atmosphere around us. Sitting next to him, I looked out to the sea with a wistful smile. My jaw dropped at what I saw in the distance. I stood up, hoping that I was only seeing things.
“What’s wrong? What do you see?” called Dash.
Stepping closer to the shore, I stared at the tall ship. England’s vibrant flag waved proudly in the wind, but it was no warship. They were whalers.
“What do you see?” called Dash.
I did not want to say it. It was too soon.
He reached my side, panting from the run. I closed my eyes as a terrible ache inflicted itself upon my heart.
“It’s a British whaling ship,” I said.
He took in a deep breath of the salty air. “Then it is time for our adventure to end.”
The warm gale carried away our melancholic tones.
“I will tell them you were injured in battle,” I said. “That you saved my life.”
“I will rot away in some British prison,” he said bitterly.
“No!” I cried. “Allow me to speak on your behalf. Let me try.”
“If you were a midshipman, your words might hold some weight. I am not sure that they will heed the words of a powder monkey. It is the way of the world, my dear friend.”
Reality sliced my veins open like an invisible knife, draining my hope.
“You need to go home, Dash,” I pleaded. “This bloody war can’t go on for much longer. Even if you must wait it out in a prison, you will return home one day to write your music.”
He shrugged, shaking his head. “I won’t kill myself now. I won’t mar your memory of me.”
“This isn’t the end.”
I spoke calmly, even though it felt like my insides were being ripped apart.
“This was almost like a dream,” I said. “Wasn’t it?”
“It was better.”
The whaling crew had spotted us. The sailors lowered a boat down to the water and quickly rowed for shore.
“May I do something very odd?” asked Dash. “While I still have the chance?”
“It might be the strangest thing anyone has done to you.”
“What is it, then?” I asked with a racing heart.
“I want to see you. I want to know what you look like.”
He was so close to me that his warm breath tickled my skin. I longed for him to see me. I wished that he could.
“How?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
“By feeling you. Don’t be afraid. I won’t do anything untoward.”
I longed for him to touch me, though I could not understand why. The idea was wonderful and confusing. I tried in vain to still my rapid breathing as he brought his warm hand to my cheekbone.
“Relax, sea rat.”
“I’m trying to.”
He gently cupped my chin in the palm of his hand before gently tracing a finger down my jawline. I closed my eyes as both of his hands touched the sides of my face. He touched the tips of his fingers over my eyelids, down my nose, and over my lips. He ran one hand down my neck, causing me to gasp suddenly, and then he grazed my shoulder, my collar bones, and my other shoulder.
“You have a button nose,” he said.
He reached up to feel my upturned lips with his fingertips and I smiled.
“You are beautiful, Max.”
I wrapped my arms around him and he encased me in his tight embrace. He released me too soon and our mouths hovered within an inch of one another. I froze, hypnotized by his nearness.
“Are the British very close?” he asked.
“We must wave to them so that it appears we want them to rescue us.”
We walked closer to the water, allowing the small waves to lap at our feet as we waited for the whalers to land. As I stood on the beautiful beach next to my best friend, it plagued my heart to know that it would soon be just another memory. The British sailors rowed in unison to retrieve us. I could see the whites in their eyes.
The agitated voice of an officer ordering his men to row faster broke the fantastical mood of our oasis. Reality rolled in like a giant wave and I felt the confines of my heart beginning to tear apart. Two of the sailors jumped out of the boat and pulled it to shore, while the others continued to row. I held my breath, aching for Dash’s strong embrace. I swallowed past the painful lump in my throat.
“We’re leaving our home behind now. Can you feel my tears?” he asked.
I stepped forward and saluted the Lieutenant. He leaped out of the boat and walked toward us.
“Officer Fontaine of the HMS Phoenix bids you good day, lads.”
“My name is Max Worrell, Sir. I survived the sinking of the HMS Wind months ago.”
The mate nodded and studied Dash with a harsh gaze. “And this young man with you? His trousers have a distinct French stitching if I am not mistaken.”
I took a step forward. “His name is Dash, Sir. He was brutally wounded in battle while serving his country aboard the HMS Ebony. He saved my life on this island, Sir. We became friends. I ask you of this one favour then I shall never ask such a thing of King or country again. Please, Sir, can you ensure Dash’s safe passage home?”
“His country was our mortal enemy and don’t you forget it.”
I swallowed hard. “He saved my life.”
The mate’s sharp hazel eyes intensified the harsh reality. He cleared his throat. “No need to beg, lad. The war’s over. It ended in June at the Battle of Waterloo.”
I could have fainted.
“I can’t believe it,” breathed Dash. “It’s really over?”
“Yes. It’s the end of an epoch,” said Fontaine. “I wouldn’t talk much if I were you. Most of the men still hate frogs.”
Fontaine, Dash, and I got into the small vessel. As they rowed us toward their ship, I watched the Galapagos Islands drift further away. Our affection would remain on the foggy island, shrouded from the rest of the world, where it would never die.
When we reached the whaling frigate, we climbed aboard. The sailors audibly marvelled at Dash’s ability to climb and jump aboard without any help. Dash and I washed up below decks and changed into clean, dry clothing provided by the captain. The cook gave us a hot meal of steaming potatoes and salted pork. It was wonderful to eat meat from a land animal again.
We sat away from the rowdy men and it wasn’t so bad. The creaking of the ship and the murmuring of strangers’ voices surrounded us, but we ignored it as though we were still on the quiet beach.
“You asked me once about my phantom sightings,” said Dash.
I inched closer to him. “What do you see?”
“The first time that I awoke without eyes, all I could see were random patterns in differing colours. After that, it was the faces of all the men I served with, before the storm took them. I was haunted by their ghosts every moment of the day.”
“Were they all you could see?”
He nodded. “It was all that I saw until I felt your face on the shore. Now, the only thing I can see is you.”
I cast a glance around us to be sure that no one was watching us then I took his hand into mine. His touch warmed me, but then he let go.
“Not here, Max. I’m sorry.”
“I know,” I sighed.
“You have blue eyes, don’t you?”
I blinked. “I do.”
“So bright and innocent still. I can see them in my mind’s eye now.”
I blinked back tears, forcing a small laugh. “If only we could be back on our island, eating a meal like this.”
“Ah, I’m imagining it. We’re under those starry skies with the fire crackling. The waves lap at the shore and we are alone. Instead of overcooked crab, we’re brewing fresh coffee and cooking a juicy slab of pork.”
“It would be perfection.”
Chuckling, Dash swallowed down his food and took a swig of ale.
“I’m not sure if I’ll eat crabmeat again,” I said with a grimace.
“When we meet again years from now, we can celebrate with crab.”
He flashed me a bittersweet smile.
“When we meet again,” I agreed.
Fontaine stepped up to us. With a cup of grog in his hand, his expression was rather merry.
“We’ve met our quota of whale oil, boys, which means we are sailing east now. For home.”
“Home,” Dash and I echoed in unison.
He left us to brood together.